PROFESSOR QUESTIONS ETHNIC CONFLICT: ARMENIAN STUDENTS RESPOND TO GENOCIDE DENIALS
by Matthew Rist
The George Washington University The GW Hatchet
Feb 26 2009
One of history’s most controversial debates came to the Marvin Center
Turkkaya Ataov, a professor at Ankara University in Turkey who is
internationally recognized for his vehement denials that the 1915
massacre of Armenians was a genocide, presented a lecture entitled,
"How to Come to Terms with One’s Past: Searching the Truth Behind
Armenian Claims on Genocide."
A handful of Armenian students listened in silence among a crowd of
100 mostly Turkish or Turkish-Americans as Ataov discounted Armenian
claims of genocide at the hands of the Turks during World War I.
"I’m not saying that nothing has happened, but certain things have
happened and that there are omissions, and omission is a way of
censorship," Ataov said.
The professor appeared to speak directly to the Armenian students in
the audience at times and even pointed at them at one point in the
lecture, telling them to see him afterwards to discuss what he was
"The Armenians are very fine people, very intelligent, very
hard-working, very able," Ataov said.
Ataov characterized Turkey and its people as, historically, accepting
of other ethnicities.
"Genocide is the natural outcome and continuation of racism. Only
racists can pursue policies of genocide," Ataov said.
Ataov went on to talk about the disagreements that have arisen between
the two opposing viewpoints on the interpretation of historical facts.
"We must agree on dispassionate, nonpartisan, open-minded
controversy," Ataov said. "I have met very few [Armenians] that fit
During his lecture, Ataov compared the misinformation about the
Armenian massacres to a game he played as a child, similar to the
game of telephone, asserting that this verbal passing of information
is to blame for some of the misinformation.
"What actually happened in history is very different, or to a great
extent different, than what the younger generations keep hearing from
their elders," Attaov said.
Leah Brayman, president of the Armenian Student Network, said she
was offended by Ataov’s analogy.
"For professor Ataov to relate the genocide to an elementary school
game of telephone is not only completely inaccurate, but it humorizes
mass genocide," she wrote in an e-mail after the event. "As a critic of
‘uneducated people’ professor Ataov’s claims about Armenian history
and genocide were extremely false, completely misstated and he made
a mockery of the Armenian people."
Esra Alemdar, president of the Turkish Student Association, said her
organization brought Ataov to campus in order to educate students
about the allegations of genocide.
"I feel like we, as Turkish-Americans, really do not have a lot of
information about this issue, so that’s one of the reasons why I
wanted to have the professor speak," she said.
Alemdar said she was pleased to have students from the Armenian
Student Association in the audience.
Brayman said that relations between the Turkish Student Association
and the Armenian Student Association have never been a problem.
She added, "Unfortunately our history of conflict is still a national
and international issue that we hope will be resolved very soon, so
that all future relations will be nothing but peaceful and productive."
After his lecture, Ataov had a specific message for GW students of
Armenian and Turkish descent looking to move forward and work together
in the future.
"The duty of scholarship is to study the views of the other side
because the Armenian side is making this mistake; which is described
in psychology as the egoism of victimization, in which one side thinks
only of its own losses and rejects the other," Ataov said. "In reality,
what the other suffered may be even worse."